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The Breeze: 60 years in the community

By CJ HADDAD - | Apr 15, 2022

Valarie Harring, executive editor

Not many local newspapers can say they’ve been watchdogging a city or town since before the community incorporated, but that’s a feat the Cape Coral Breeze can claim.  

Starting with the first edition of what would become The Breeze that debuted 60 years ago until today, being a community-focused newspaper is what continues to keep the presses hot.  

From local reaction and public health awareness with COVID-19, to Lee County news that impacts the Cape, to the latest in real estate and development projects, to the goings on at City Hall, for six decades the Cape Coral Breeze has brought to reader’s doorsteps (and now screens) the seemingly never-ending string of happenings that see the Cape atop countless “fastest-growing cities” lists. 

“A community newspaper should reflect the values and interests of its readers and serve as their eyes and ears in matters of public interest. The Breeze has done that exceptionally well since Day 1 in 1961 up until today,” said Breeze Newspapers Publisher Ray Eckenrode, who joined The Breeze in 2019 from the Ogden-owned Altoona Mirror (Penn.). “We are a local paper and our staff is deeply rooted in the community and can provide perspective for Cape Coral readers about Cape Coral issues that no other media can match. We are the local paper and we want to make sure no one can out-local us.” 

With a population eclipsing 200,000 and plans to build out for double the full-time residents, there’s always something happening in Cape Coral, and The Breeze has kept its fingers on the pulse time after time. After 60 years, residents know they can still walk in the front door of The Breeze and talk about an event coming up or hand the latest club event or wedding announcement in person to an editor and know they can depend on the hometown paper to spread the word. 

Laurie Ragle, advertising director

“The mission statement of the Breeze Newspapers has long been ‘to be the primary provider of information in the communities it serves.’ That is goal one at The Breeze,” said Valarie Harring, executive editor since 2000. “On the news side, that means covering the stories that matter to our readers. That is, yes, what some call ‘hard’ news like stories about City Hall, how your tax dollars are being spent, development projects and environmental issues. But it also is all the rest — features about the people who live or do business here in Cape Coral; what’s happening in not only ‘the schools’ but in the classrooms; local sports from the Little League team going to Nationals to Friday night football to the senior league championships and so much more. The goal of The Breeze newsroom is to not only cover meetings and the type of breaking news referred to in industry jargon as the ‘police beat,’ but the wealth of background stories that make Cape Coral the community that we are.” 

There’s been quite a bit of history to document over the last 60 years in the Cape, and it can be argued the last decade, even five years, have featured happenings that will be talked about 60 years from now as pivotal moments. The Breeze and staff have worked tirelessly to become one with the community, its people, and a trusted source of information.  

“A very good editor for whom I worked early on said it well: A community newspaper is a mirror, accurately reflecting the community it serves,” said Harring, who has been with The Breeze since 1996. “Community journalism, at The Breeze, focuses on what is happening, not only on the big image in the foreground but also the details in the background and glimpsed around the edges. Our role is a commitment to reflecting that big picture accurately, fairly and in as timely a manner as possible.”

The Breeze also has not shied away as to how it feels about one thing or another in the Cape, as editorials over the years (and today) have opened eyes into the inner-workings of some of the most polarizing events, decisions and topics.  

“We have long been committed to a watchdog approach and we’re not afraid to add a little bite to the bark through editorials as well as through letters to the editor, guest opinions and submitted cartoons, which are reflections of the voices within our community,” said Harring, a 35-year career journalist.  

Lyn McElhaney, senior advertising account executive & print revenue coordinator

Eckenrode, who is responsible for the overall operations of the Cape Coral Breeze and its five sister papers in Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach, Pine Island, Pine Island and Lehigh Acres, as well as the Breeze’s large commercial printing operation in Fort Myers, said there’s something about the residents of Cape Coral and Southwest Florida, and how this melting pot of Floridians and transplants feel about their slice of utopia. 

“One of the first things you notice when you move to Cape Coral is the tremendous sense of pride people have in their corner of paradise,” he said. “That pride is the kind of thing a community newspaper can help foster and it’s the kind of thing that can get you through rough times.” 

The Breeze is heavily involved in community events, organizations and functions, including the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral, the Cape Coral Mayors Scholarship program, Cape Coral Construction Industry Association, Cape Coral Animal Shelter, Cape Coral Historical Society, Cape Coral Farmer’s Market, Cape Coral Art Festival, German American Social Club’s Oktoberfest and the South Cape Hospitality and Entertainment Association.

The Cape Coral Breeze, and its sister papers, also hold an annual “Best of” readers choice program for the Cape and surrounding communities. Winners proudly display their plaques in their place of business and include these honors in their advertising.  

Regarding advertising, every newspaper in the country relies on its advertising as a point of business and an added feature for residents.  

Ray Eckenrode, publisher

“Since newspapers began, advertising has been considered just as much news as the stories and articles printed,” said Breeze Newspapers Advertising Director Laurie Ragle. Over her 24 years in the industry, Ragle said while transitioning to more of an online format to reach digital readers has been an undertaking, there is no better place for area businesses to promote their services.  

“The local newspaper is where you can read what is reported by real journalists that are in the community,” she said. “Because we are considered the newspaper for Cape Coral, many businesses see the advantage of being associated with us and our many products. Our reach is wide and priced so well that it is affordable for any size business. 

“I hope that we continue to see businesses grow by allowing us to help them with their marketing. With both print and digital we are able to deliver real results for local business owners.” 

Senior Advertising Account Executive & Print Revenue Coordinator Lyn McElhaney, who has 26 years in the industry and has been with The Breeze since 2013, said the sales team has been a major contributor in delivering the community local news for the past 60 years. Members of The Breeze sales team are friendly faces in the neighborhood who work to bring small businesses, the backbone of the Cape, to the forefront of residents’ minds.  

“Our sales team is the face of the paper and they have built long-lasting relationships with every advertiser,” McElhaney said. “We work, live, and play here. You will see us at several local community and charity events.” 

She said the addition of online, or e-editions of the paper, have expanded their possibilities to engage with those who make the city what it is today.  

“We have continued to educate our sales team and are always learning. Our selling opportunities have gone beyond print-only into digital-only and print-digital combinations,” she said. “We are a strong staple in our community and we will continue to be involved in the for many years due our amazing staff. The Breeze family is always there for our advertisers.” 


–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj